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Mich. lawmaker: Time to use subpoena to learn Whitmer secrets about COVID nursing home deaths

The Michigan state legislature is investigating Gov. Whitmer's reluctance to provide an accurate number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

Updated: March 11, 2021 - 10:51pm

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"It's time for us to go down the road of issuing a subpoena," said Michigan State Representative Steve Johnson, who is chair of the House Oversight Committee, with regard to finding out the accurate numbers of COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

Johnson told the John Solomon Reports podcast that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer's administration was following the same guidelines as New York's Cuomo administration with regard to "forcing COVID patients into nursing homes."

"So we started digging in," said Johnson, "when we heard what happened in New York, to say, 'Hey, are we having the same problem here?' And so we asked those questions to the Department [of Health and Human services], and they said, 'Hey, we're counting the numbers just fine, you need to trust us.'"

"Well, I don't really exactly trust departments that much," Johnson continued, "so we said, 'Can you actually give us a better break down? You know, can you actually show us where these numbers are coming from? How many are actually in nursing homes versus those admitted to hospitals?' That's where the Cuomo administration was hiding them."

But after getting those questions, "they stopped talking to us," Johnson recounted. "They won't answer those questions. So we had a hearing, and we invited the department to come and testify the answer to a lot of these questions. And they refuse to testify. We put out a public list of questions we had for them, and instead of answering that and sharing the data, what they told us was, 'Hey, we have the best data out there. We're doing everything right.' But they didn't share it with us.

"Now, I don't know about you, but if I had the best data out there, I wouldn't go around bragging about it. I would just show people the data. But it seems like they're trying to hide something here."

"Then a few days later," Johnson continued, "we find out that the former [health department] director, Robert Gordon, got this $155,000 payout to remain silent about his time there. And you just start to follow all these pieces here, it's looking like they're trying to hide something.

"I think [the payout is] nine months of his annual salary. So that's the thing, — what are you trying to hide? We know that there's severances with low-level bureaucrats, we understand how in the private sector, severances happen, there's non-disclosure agreements. That's kind of standard HR practice.

"But we are talking about the head director, alright? You're talking the top director — a health director in a health pandemic, and you're saying, 'Hey, you're resigning, but actually probably fired, but you're not allowed to talk about that. We're gonna put a gag order on you.' You know, that's taxpayer money being spent on that, that should never happen."

When Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was asked about the large payout, said Johnson, "she bristled at the thought that that's what we were trying to imply — that they're trying to hide something — and said, 'Oh, no, this is very common.' Which, I assure you, it's not common with department directors, just not common whatsoever."

The gag order on Gordon was only made "public because of the work of a really good, dedicated journalist that really did some deep digging and FOIA requests," Johnson added. "If this was such a common occurrence, then why weren't they out in the open of, 'Hey, this is what we did'? Instead, they tried to hide those agreements as well. So, I mean, they're trying to hide something here."

Johnson said his committee is working towards subpoenaing Gordon.

"I think the next step is, and we are having conversations with the Speaker of the House, to have a resolution ... granting the Oversight Committee subpoena power, and for us to use that subpoena power to first try to subpoena Director Gordon, to have him come in and answer these questions.

"So we are going down the route right now of asking for that subpoena power. We've invited Director Gordon to come before our committee, we want to do things voluntarily, if possible. But it's been a week, and he still hasn't. So I think at this point, it's time for us to go down the road of issuing a subpoena."

Prior to leaving the Whitmer administration, Gordon also worked on the Biden presidential transition team as a healthcare policy adviser.